Cypriot President Calls On E.U. To Re-unify Cyprus Over Northern Cypriot Disapproval

Nikos Christodoulides, President of Cyprus, asked the European Parliament to appoint an envoy to help support negotiations to unify the island, European Interest reported on June 13th. Cyprus is currently divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots live in Northern Cyprus, which declared independence in 1983, but only Turkey has recognized Northern Cyprus’ independence. Unifying Cyprus will be difficult; previous negotiations have been unsuccessful due to disagreements between Greek and Turkish Cypriots over each group’s representation in government and the withdrawal of troops from the island.

The Greek Herald reported that Christodoulides said the E.U. has “the tools and the incentives that could lead to a mutually-agreed solution for the Cypriot people, Greek and Turkish Cypriots, for Turkey, for the European Union.” However, the E.U. will have to increase support for unification in Northern Cyprus and Turkey before such a solution becomes possible. Ersin Tatar, President of Northern Cyprus, has opposed unifying Cyprus and wants Northern Cyprus to be recognized as an independent country. According to The Guardian, Tatar said that there are “two states and two people on the island” and that “reversing the clock” by re-unifying the Cypruses would be “absolutely impossible.”

The most likely way Cyprus could be unified is through the creation of a bicommunal state. The Annan Plan made a proposal for a bicommunal state in 2004, which would have created two constituent states for the Greek and Turkish populations, each with its own legislature. Additionally, both constituent states would have elected members of the Parliament of Cyprus. The Parliament would have held elections to the Presidential Council every five years, and the presidency would have rotated between Greek and Turkish members of the council every 20 months, allowing both groups to be represented. The International Crisis Group reported that most Turkish Cypriots supported the Annan Plan, but support for a bicommunal state has decreased after unsuccessful negotiations to end the conflict.

Most Greek Cypriots, meanwhile, voted against the Annan Plan in a referendum because the Plan overrepresented Turkish Cypriots in the Parliament when the group made up only 20% of Cyprus’ population.

Despite this previous opposition to a bicommunal state from Greek Cypriots, Christodoulides continues to call for unification. Since there has been some support for a bicommunal state from Turkish Cypriots in the past, it is possible the E.U.’s envoy will be able to encourage Northern Cyprus to support a bicommunal state again. If negotiations do restart, the E.U. envoy will need to convince Cyprus to support a gradual withdrawal of Turkish troops while Greek troops also withdraw, as this is likely the only way Turkish troops would agree to leave Cyprus.

Turkey first sent troops to Cyprus to protect Turkish Cypriots after the Cypriot National Guard, which was supported by Greece, launched a coup against the contemporary Cypriot government in 1974, with the goal of unifying Cyprus with Greece. Because of the Treaty of Guarantee, which was signed after Cyprus’ independence from Britain and allows Turkey, Greece, and the U.K. to intervene on the island, the troops have remained in Cyprus since then, preventing an end to the Cyprus Conflict.

In 2017, both Cyprus and Northern Cyprus supported a bicommunal state, but Cyprus and Greece wanted a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island, and Northern Cyprus and Turkey opposed this. However, Al Jazeera reported that during the 2017 negotiations, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan supported withdrawing Turkish troops over time if all Greek troops also left Cyprus. If Turkey agrees to gradually withdraw troops, it is possible this could be supported by the Cypriot government, and by voters in a referendum.

Despite the longstanding conflicts between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and Northern Cyprus’ current opposition to unification, re-unifying Cyprus could be the key to decreasing tension between these two groups. Northern Cypriots will likely show more support for unification if Greek Cypriots agree to a bicommunal state and a gradual withdrawal of Turkish troops, instead of holding out for a full, immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops and a government where only Greek Cypriots have representation.